Bolivia continued to keep on kicking my arse. Every time I thought there was a break in the weather, and I hit the road, it back fires. I left La Paz for the 6 hours to Cochcabamba. Over that 12 hours, I had rain, hail, snow and a land slide. I am not sure why I thought it would take 6 hours. I knew from past history that I should always double and sometimes triple suggested google “driving times,” but after a week of being off the bike around La Paz I guess I thought I would be ok.
I left town easily enough and hit the highway determined to just crunch kms. Traffic was the usual chaotic mess around La Paz, and soon enough I was blasting down the highway at a comfortable 96km/h. There was a menacing looking storm up ahead, but given this had been happening for a week, I figured it would be a quick downpour and would leave just as quick.
Shortly later, I rode through snow for the first time. I have never ridden in snow, but I knew that it should be avoided, so I pulled off to the side of the road. I looked around for somewhere to pull over and wait it out. Being so high up and between towns there was no real form of cover--no trees or bridges. The sleet came down, and I just accepted that it was going to one of those days when riding would be consistently wet and miserable. I stood around with my helmet on and blasted Tom Waits “Make it rain” while the storm passed.
I continued on with the day. Once I dropped altitude, it warmed up a little bit and storms became heavier and more tropical. While it was wet and cold, it was great to be on the bike again. I made regular stops to warm my gloves on the exhaust pipes.
On the one of the final drops down into Santa Monica through the twisting ranges, I noticed a range of backed up trucks and cars. It was dark, and I couldn’t really see the distance ahead so I pulled into the left hand lane and started filtering towards the front.
Expecting to see a broken down truck or perhaps a one of those horrible bus crashes you always hear about but never see, I was intrigued that that line of stopped traffic just kept going on and on and on. It had clearly been stopped for a while.
How to cross a mudslide late at night.
There was a mudlside across the road, and a bus was stuck halfway across. It was on its side anrunning water surrounded it. The water wasn’t running high or fast, but I could see that it was causing some issues.
It was hard to really see what was going on through the darkness. Most of the truckies seemed to have resigned that they would have to spend the night there. Some were drinking beers while others had lights around trying to work out if they should try and cross (or how they could pull out the stranded cars blocking their attempts.)
I parked and walked around.
There was no way given how wet and cold I was that I would be able to spend the night on the mountains. I am sure I might have been able to barter for a night in one of the trucks, but that was not overly appealing. I knew that I would have to cross the mudslide--with or without the bike. My guess was the next town was only 20kms away, and, after 12 hours on the bike, I just really wanted to find a bed. Somewhere, anywhere with some warmth. I figured I would give the mudslide a crack, and, worse case, I would drop the bike, get water in the air intake, flood the engine with mud water, tow it out, leave it on the side of the road until morning and camp out. Regardless, I would be in the same position I was in if I didn't at least try.
The water didn't look too deep, and I saw people traversing it on foot regularly. I rolled up to the edge of the slide. My plan was to ride on the highside - I figured that if I washed out I would at least have the bus to support me and hopefully prevent me from being washed over the edge. One of the truckies noticed what I was doing and suggested that I take the low side of the bus. It made sense when I thought about it as the bus did block most of the heavy water.
So I start to cross. It was unlike any the other river crossing I had undertaken before. Water then loose rock. I kept the speed steady and it was going well. After several meters, my front disappeared into rock filled mud. The bike stalled. I put my boot down, and it was swallowed to the knee. I eased the clutch out with the revs high trying to shake the bike loose, but I was having no luck.
Later I googled about mudslides. It turns out the edge of a mudslide dries out and forms hard rocks, while the flowing centre tends to be a combo of water, mud and smaller stones.
Now I could hear the historical laughter of the half drunk truckies ,and they kindly to pointed spot lights at me. I am sure it was so they could see their entertainment, but it did let me see what I was doing. I jumped off the bike and started rocking it backwards and forwards, side to side to try and gain some/any traction on the mud.
Thank god Thatcher was so light.
I was able to free the bike by keeping the bike redlining while pushing/muscling it across the rest of the distance. Once I hit the other side, there was no cheering from the truckies as I had hoped. I jumped on my bike and headed towards town. While I was riding along the backed up gridlock I had plenty of questions fired at me, but but my struggling Spanish was no good.
A short time later, I dropped altitude. I could have sworn that by the time I hit town, the mud in my doc martens was actually warm.